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Fruit flies turn on autopilot

High-speed video shows how bugs change course in a flash

12:01pm, April 9, 2010

View a video of a fly 'swimming' through the air.

Fruit flies turn in midair with a shrug of their shoulders.

A new analysis shows that the flies’ aerial gymnastics are driven by wing joints that act like wind-up toys, letting the bugs whirl around almost automatically.

Insights from the study, which was published online April 5 in Physical Review Letters, could someday help build better flying robots.

Fruit flies beat their wings about once every four milliseconds — faster than their neurons can fire — and can turn 120 degrees in 18 wing beats. This made study coauthor Itai Cohen of Cornell University wonder, “How much of the wing motion

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